The Houston Texans are 1-4 and at the bottom of the league in nearly every meaningful statistical category. So why don't the Jaguars feel as though Sunday's game will be a cakewalk? Because nobody plays the Jaguars tougher than the Texans.
Though the Texans had the worst record in the league last season, they held the lead after three quarters of both games against the 12-4 Jaguars. That's a fact Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio surely emphasized to his team this week.
In Houston, the Jaguars begin a stretch of schedule with a game they must win to have any realistic hope of contending for the AFC South title. The Jaguars are entering a favorable stretch of schedule that'll see them play the Texans twice, the one-win Titans once and three home games in the next five weeks.
Del Rio said it's too early in the season to begin chasing one team, but the Jaguars are two games behind the Colts in the division title race and the next five weeks would seem to offer a solid opportunity for closing the gap. The Colts host Washington on Sunday, then travel to Denver and New England, host Buffalo and play at Dallas.
The Texans will wear their "Battle Red" jerseys against the Jaguars, which has become somewhat of a tradition. The Texans beat the Jaguars in the first-ever meeting between the two teams, in 2002, and the series is tied, 4-4.
In some ways, the Texans seem to have targeted the Jaguars. The two teams have a history that goes back to the 2002 expansion draft, when the Jaguars dumped $17 million of salary cap amortization on the Texans. It allowed the Jaguars a quick cap recovery they otherwise would've struggled for several years to achieve.
"It is a division opponent that you play so often that you get a feel for what they are," Texans quarterback David Carr said when asked why the Texans play so well against the Jaguars. "It is always an exciting game for me because they are going to play a tough and physical game. You are going to get into it because you play them twice a year so it turns into a little bit of a rivalry."
Carr and the passing game is the only bright spot to the Texans' season so far. His 94.9 passer rating is fifth-best in the league and wide receiver Andre Johnson's 39 receptions lead the league.
"There is always a place to go with the football; there is always an out. A lot of times you get stuck where you only have two guys out for a route and in this system there is always a guy checking down or running to a zone. You have a place to go with the football so it is a lot better for me," Carr said of rookie head coach Gary Kubiak's offensive system.
What Kubiak's system doesn't include is a running game. The Texans are last in the league's rush rankings, as Ron Dayne has rushed for only 167 yards and a 2.9 yards-per-carry average.
The Texans have also struggled on defense. They're last in the league in total defense; 29th against the run and 31st against the pass.
Del Rio, however, praised three young players – third-year cornerback Dunta Robinson, rookie defensive end Mario Williams and rookie linebacker DeMeco Ryans – around whom the Texans are building their defense of the future.
"He's going to get better," Del Rio said of Williams, the first pick of this year's draft. "I think he's a real good player. He's a big, athletic guy with long arms and a great motor."
Williams and Ryans are tied for the team lead in sacks with 1.5 each.
"It was two years ago when they came in here and beat us. That pretty much knocked us out of the playoffs," Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich said of the Texans. "It didn't have anything to do with the Houston Texans. It had to do with the game of football. In this league, anybody has a chance to win any day. You have to understand that and make sure you can be as prepared as possible to play on Sunday."